Born Benjamin Joy Eidson, 5 November 1935, Atlanta, Georgia
Benny Joy made lots of rockabilly recordings during the 1950s (mostly self-written), but only four singles were released at the time. Or three and a half really, because one track appeared on two singles. Luckily, the unissued material was eventually released from 1978 onwards, especially thanks to Dutchman Cees Klop.
Born in Atlanta, Benny moved to Tampa, Florida at the age of five. He sang in the local church choir when he was eight and got his first guitar when he was about 12. Though he never took a music lesson in his life, Joy was gifted enough to become quite proficient on the instrument. Around 1951 he formed his first band with Big John Taylor (real name John Wilkie Taylor, born 1937), who also played guitar. They performed at high school gyms and drive-in theaters, mainly country music, but with blues influences, as Benny loved black music and was always hanging around Afro-Americans.
He had no idea that Elvis Presley and others were developing a similar combination of country, blues and rock. It was Elvis who showed what could be achieved with the new music, so Benny decided to try his luck at the label for which Presley recorded, Sun Records in Memphis. His auditions for Sam Phillips and Jack Clement went well, but it seems that he didn’t sign with Sun because he had a job and a girlfriend in Tampa and didn’t want to risk leaving either of them.
In July 1957 Benny and Big John Taylor cut their first session, for the Tri-Dec label in Haines City, Florida. At least five numbers were recorded. Tri-Dec issued “Hey High School Baby”/“Spin the Bottle" in September 1957, when Benny signed a publishing contract with Tri-Dec Music. Further sessions for Tri-Dec produced great tracks like “Rollin’ To the Jukebox Rock” and “Ittie Bittie Everything”. Then, “Spin the Bottle” (the B-side of the Tri-Dec single) somehow caught the attention of Shelby Singleton, then promotion man for Mercury-Starday. He reissued the number on the new Starday subsidiary Dixie, with a different flip (“Steady With Betty”) and minus the overdubbed percussion.
With records out on two small labels and something of a local following, Benny was approached by Buck Ram (who brought The Platters to Mercury and fame). Early in 1958, Ram signed both Joy and Taylor to management and recording contracts and to Ram’s publishing company, Argo Music. Buck Ram also bought the Tri-Dec masters. On May 1, 1958, a single was released on Ram’s Antler label (distributed by Mercury) : “Crash the Party”/“Little Red Book”, two great slices of southern rockabilly. Billboard wrote : “Lad can sing, a cat to watch”. Mercury failed to promote the disc properly and it sank without the proverbial trace.
Next Ram took Joy to Nashville to record with the Nashville A-Team (Hank Garland, Bob Moore, Floyd Cramer, Boots Randolph, Buddy Harman). Benny and Big John Taylor also played guitar on the session, which produced four high-quality tracks : “I’m Gonna Move”, “Bundle Of Love”, “Button Nose” and “Kiss Me”. But Mercury rejected them all and the recordings remained unissued until 1981, when the tapes were acquired by Cees Klop (see below). Ram pulled out an unreleased Tri-Dec master, “Ittie Bittie Everything” (coupled with Big John Taylor’s instrumental “Money Money”), for release on his Ram label in 1959. That same year, Benny Joy embarked on a European tour (with a package of Buck Ram’s artists), which brought him to France, Italy and Yugoslavia.
Benny Joy and Big John Taylor left Buck Ram in 1959 after a number of disagreements and also had their own arguments, which made them part company in 1960. A major label deal failed to lead to a career upswing for Benny. Two Decca singles with slow country songs came out in 1961, light years removed from the earlier energetic recordings.
Benny also started a career as a songwriter. He had already written “Knock Three Times” for Conway Twitty (1960, originally unissued, but a 1961 version by Johnny Rivers did see a release) and “Hey Boss Man” for Ray Smith (1961, a Sun single) when he joined Cedarwood Publishing as a contract writer in June 1962. He stayed in Nashville for ten years, writing over 200 country songs for high profile artists like Marty Robbins, Charlie Rich, Red Sovine, Carl Smith, Webb Pierce and George Morgan (a Top 30 hit with “One Dozen Roses”, 1964). By far his biggest success was “BJ the DJ”, a number one country hit for Stonewall Jackson in February 1964. Benny’s final releases were a Dot single in 1963 and “The Only Woman” on Mercury in 1965 (credited to Benjamin Joy). In 1972, after a divorce, he returned to Florida and his family.
Apart from an Italian release in 1959, none of Benny’s records were issued in Europe and he would have remained a complete unknown there if it hadn’t been for Cees Klop from Rotterdam. He issued two LP’s by Benny Joy on his White Label imprint, first “Rock-A- Billy With Benny Joy” in 1978 (the seven previously released 1950s tracks plus five unissued numbers), then, in 1981, “More Rock-A-Billy With Benny Joy” (12 previously unissued cuts, including those from the Nashville session). The albums did much for Joy’s reputation among rockabilly fans and there was talk of appearances in the UK. Alas, plans were shelved when he was found to be suffering from cancer. His premature death in 1988 (aged 52) brought to a close one of the more colourful footnotes in the history of rock n roll.
Discography : http://koti.mbnet.fi/wdd/bennyjoy.htm
CD : Crash the Rockabilly Party (Ace CDCHD 703, 1998). 28 tracks from 1957-1959. The liner notes by Bill Millar are an abbreviated version of a 5-page article he wrote for Now Dig This (issue 191, February 1999), called “Benny Joy : Rockabilly Party Crasher”. http://acerecords.co.uk/crash-the-rockabilly-party
Norton Records issued no less than five vinyl albums in 2009, devoted to “The Benny Joy Story, 1957-1961”. (Also on three CD’s and available on Spotify.) Lots of demos. Benny’s essential recordings can all be found on the Ace CD and also on an mp3 collection called “Rockabilly Shakedown” (31 tracks, 2009, Rockabilly Records).
Acknowledgements : Bill Millar, Cees Klop.
Dik, July 2015
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